New Delhi: When 26 political parties named their united front as the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) last month in Bengaluru, it was conceived as much more than just a catchy name. But given that most political contests have become largely a war of narratives lately, the ensuing discussions around INDIA remained restricted to its name and how it may be a thorn in the “nationalist” Bharatiya Janata Party’s eye.
However, as seen in the House proceedings in the monsoon session, the united fight that the parties have waged against the government over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s continued silence on the Manipur violence has shown that the leaders are bound, ideologically enough, to carry the weight of the honorific.
Rahul Gandhi’s first Lok Sabha speech on Wednesday, August 9, after his reinstatement as a member of parliament is a valid case. He did not merely speak as a Congress leader but as an alliance leader steering the ideological beliefs of INDIA.
His 37-minute speech was as much an attack on the BJP’s nationalist credentials as on its claim of delivering corruption-free governance. The Congress leader not only laid down how INDIA parties considered “Bharat” as a union of diverse and equal voices but also how the Modi government’s decisions have been largely controlled by corporate interests.
In each of his attacks, Gandhi also responded to the barrage of criticisms that INDIA parties have faced over the last few days.
Deriding the INDIA group, Modi had recently said that the group should be called ghamandiya (arrogant) instead of INDIA.
Gandhi responded to the prime minister by reminding him of his continued silence on the Manipur violence, which, according to the Congress leader, reeks of nothing but ahankar (hubris). He spoke about how the Bharat Jodo Yatra was a humbling experience for him. His experiences with groups of marginalised women and deprived farmers in the Yatra, he recalled, made him sensitive to their grief, their problems, and their helplessness and how it crushed his ahankar.
“If we have to listen to their voices, then we have to let go of our arrogance. When we do that we will be able to hear the voice of the people, and we have to [do so] by leaving behind arrogance and hatred,” Gandhi retorted, implying that it was not the INDIA bloc but Modi who is “arrogant”. He alleged that Modi has “murdered” that voice, and killed “Bharat Mata” in Manipur and Haryana.
He claimed that the BJP has put India and its voices on fire by sprinkling “kerosene” from Manipur to Haryana. Flipping the BJP’s accusation against INDIA on its head, Gandhi said that the saffron party leaders are deshdrohi (traitor) – a clear attempt to assert an inclusive form of nationalism as espoused by the INDIA parties against the BJP’s muscular, Hindu majoritarian nationalism.
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Only recently, BJP MP Nishikant Dubey had called former CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat a deshdrohi, even as he made similar allegations against the Congress.
At the same time, Gandhi had hit out at the government for its proximity with the Adani Group, taking off from his sustained criticism of alleged cronyism under Modi’s leadership – a response to the BJP’s remark that the INDIA parties’ no-confidence motion was an attack on the “son of the poor”.
“Ravan would listen to two people – Meghnad and Kumbhkaran. Similarly, Modi also listens to only Amit Shah and [Gautam] Adani. Hanuman did not set fire to Lanka. It was set on fire by Ravan’s arrogance,” Gandhi had said, adding that it was Modi’s arrogance that prevented him from visiting Manipur at a time when people from the state were facing their worst-ever crisis.
“You are anti-national, you cannot be desh bhakts [patriotic], you cannot be desh premi. You have murdered India,” Gandhi had said.
The moniker INDIA was coined by the opposition parties after they navigated through their multi-layered differences to come together on a common agenda. They signalled that despite the mutual differences, the parties have united to battle the BJP’s alleged onslaught on democratic practices and the constitution.
Gandhi, at the time, had said, “Our fight is against the BJP’s ideology and its thinking. We have named our front INDIA because our India is under attack and we realised that the fight is not between two political formations. The fight is between two different ideas of India.”
The monsoon session was the first real test for INDIA to put up a united ideological front. Throughout its course, the grouping has taken a concrete shape in the way its leaders have coordinated, acted, and performed in unison during the monsoon session. The leaders have been meeting constantly to decide on their course of action every day in both Houses. They have also unitedly appeared in black clothes as a mark of protest against Modi’s silence on the issue.
Despite some debate on whether to move a no-trust motion against the Union government, they could stand together in the Houses once it was decided that the motion would be moved.
Gandhi’s speech on Wednesday, preceded by several such interventions by leaders of INDIA parties in the last few days, has shown that the bloc is resolved to take on the BJP and the prime minister with aggression – an aspect many believed was missing in the opposition politics until recently.
The parties will soon come together again in Mumbai to divide roles and responsibilities for the Lok Sabha polls. INDIA’s effort will be to reclaim its pole position by asserting its idea of inclusive, redistributive nationalism.
The 2024 Lok Sabha election may indeed turn out to be “a fight between two different ideas of India”, as Gandhi had proclaimed.